PORTSMOUTH, VA, April 4, 2007 — Like Sammy Hagar, Jose Juan Barea felt the need for speed at the 2006 Portsmouth Invitational Tournament.

Fortunately, he also recognized the dangers of a slick track, playing under control, while shattering the tournament record for assists with 41 over three games.

The decision to take a pre-draft test drive in Portsmouth was positively Hagar-esque. His popular musical grievance with the speed limit — “I Can’t Drive 55” — not withstanding, Hagar proved adept at shifting gears, replacing David Lee Roth as the lead singer of Van Halen in 1985 and going on to enjoy enormous commercial success.

Despite his show-stopping performance at the PIT, Barea mysteriously did not garner an invite to the NBA’s Pre-Draft Camp in Orlando, leaving his performance in Portsmouth to stand on its own. He’s yet to achieve rock star status as a member of the Dallas Mavericks, but with one foot still on the gas pedal and another in the NBA door, he’s more than validated the importance of being seen and evaluated, despite not being drafted.

As the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament bears down on its 55th lap, the conditions are taking on a familiar look in recent years, with many would-be participants waving the caution flag at the behest of handlers and agents. It’s a decision that could prove fatal with respect to this year’s draft.

With an increasing number of underclassmen and international players taking up spots in Orlando, seniors who balk at playing in the PIT run the risk of being shut out of the pre-draft circuit completely. This, coupled with the NBA’s ban on all individual workouts with NBA teams prior to June 5, paints a bleak picture for those who choose not to take advantage of a Portsmouth invite.

Last year, 10 players parlayed their visit to Portsmouth into a spot in the NBA, including: David Noel (North Carolina) of Milwaukee, Chris Quinn (Notre Dame) and Robert Hite (Miami) of Miami, Jose Juan Barea (Northeastern) of Dallas, Steve Novak (Marquette) of Houston, Tarence Kinsey (South Carolina) of Memphis, Bobby Jones (Washington) of Philadelphia, Justin Williams (Wyoming) of Sacramento, Solomon Jones (South Florida) of Atlanta and Mike Hall (George Washington) of Washington.

By comparison, only 15 players who took part in actual games in Orlando last year are currently under contract in the NBA. You’d think such a dynamic would serve as a cautionary tale, but, as the camp was set to get underway, the familiar stream of pullouts was rushing through. Names on this list include North Carolina’s Reyshawn Terry and Marist’s Jared Jordan.

It seems a peculiar move for someone of Jordan’s ilk. While NBA people are said to like his pass-first mentality, the level of competition he faced the last four years is certainly a question mark. Last year, Notre Dame’s Quinn had even more impressive credentials than Jordan, leading Notre Dame in scoring and earning All-Big East honors. Quinn transformed a solid showing in Portsmouth into a trip to Orlando. Though he wasn’t drafted, Quinn made the roster for the Miami Heat, and, at last look, was backing up Jason Williams, with Gary Payton sidelined with injury.

This year’s race in Portsmouth — which welcomes only college seniors — begins Wednesday and carries on through Saturday.

Here are some players to keep an eye on this week:

Blake Schilb, Loyola-Chicago — Schilb tested his mettle at the 2006 NBA Pre-Draft Camp in Orlando as a junior, opting to return to school for his senior campaign. At 6-7, Schilb has solid ball-handling and passing skills. He’s one of only two players in the field to average at least 17 points, five rebounds and four assists this season, along with Albany’s Jamar Wilson.

Carl Landry, Purdue — Fresh off an All-Big Ten First Team selection and trip to the NCAA Tournament, Landry is out to prove there’s another place in the NBA for an undersized four with very good skills in the post. There’s little doubt a lucrative career overseas awaits, though Landry’s toughness and basketball IQ can’t be discounted when NBA teams are looking to fill out a roster.

Ron Lewis, Ohio State — Never on the tip of the tongue when discussing the NBA Draft with respect to Ohio State — Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. have stolen that thunder — Lewis had a very solid senior season for the NCAA runner-up Buckeyes. Lewis has range to go along with slashing ability. It should be interesting to watch him away from Oden and Conley Jr.

Derek Raivio, Gonzaga — Like many of the players in camp this week, Raivio will likely be evaluated on his ability to play the point. He’s quick, and has proven he can knock down shots. He’s also an exceptional free throw shooter (96 percent). Can he make people around him better?

Trey Johnson, Jackson State — Though not a household name, having played at a smaller school, Johnson can fill it, averaging 27.1 points as a senior. Johnson tested the waters in 2006, but didn’t earn an invite to Orlando. His offense is clearly ahead of his defense at this point.

Over the last six years, the PIT has sent over 40 players to the NBA. Among these are key NBA role players like Ronald Murray and Jason Maxiell (Detroit Pistons), Reggie Evans (Denver Nuggets), Rasual Butler (New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets), John Salmons (Sacramento Kings), James Jones (Phoenix Suns) and Keith McLeod (Indiana Pacers)

Other current NBAers playing significant roles who have Portsmouth on their resume include Ben Wallace (Detroit Pistons), Cuttino Mobley (L.A. Clippers), Jeff Foster (Indiana Pacers), Ruben Patterson (Milwaukee Bucks) and Greg Buckner (Dallas Mavericks).


Notes:

  • The 64 players invited to Portsmouth are placed on eight teams of eight players each, ensuring plenty of playing time for all players. An additional game was added to Saturday’s schedule in order to ensure that each team will play three games over a four-day period.

  • The PIT Celebrity Luncheon this year honors NBA Director of Scouting Marty Blake, who turned 80 on March 22. Blake, the recipient of the John Bunn Award from the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005, has been part of the NBA for more than 50 years.